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Tintagel excavations reveal refined tastes of early Cornish kings

Early Cornish kings feasted on a diet of oysters, roast pork and fine wine, eating and drinking from bowls imported from Byzantium and glass goblets from Spain, a new dig at Tintagel Castle has suggested.

Tintagel excavations reveal refined tastes of early Cornish kings
Tintagel is intricately bound up in the legend of King Arthur [Credit: Emily Whitfield-Wicks/English Heritage Trust]
Discoveries made by the Cornwall archaeological unit (CAU) support the view that Tintagel was a royal site during the 5th and 6th centuries, with trading links reaching as far as the eastern Mediterranean.

Perched on Cornwall’s rugged north coast, Tintagel has for centuries been associated with the legend of King Arthur. Over the past 18 months, its custodian, English Heritage, has been accused of putting too much emphasis on the stories of Arthur and Merlin, rather than focusing on the site’s true, ancient Cornish heritage. The excavations, the first at Tintagel for decades, may help redress the balance.

Tintagel excavations reveal refined tastes of early Cornish kings
An archaeological dig at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall [Credit: Emily Whitfield-Wicks/English Heritage Trust]
The excavation also uncovered stone-walled structures on the southern terrace of Tintagel’s island area, with substantial stone walls and slate floors, accessed by a flight of slate steps.

Significant finds include a section of a fine Phocaean red slipware bowl from the Byzantine empire in Anatolia, imported amphorae thought to be from southern Anatolia or Cyprus, and fine glassware from Spain. Cow, sheep and goat bones showing signs of butchering and cooking were unearthed, plus a cod bone – possible evidence of deep-sea fishing being carried out from Tintagel.

Tintagel excavations reveal refined tastes of early Cornish kings
The evidence of fine dining and luxury in the late 5th and early 6th century was unearthed as part
 of the first research excavations to take place in decades at the legendary coastal castle 
[Credit: Emily Whitfield-Wicks/English Heritage Trust]
Win Scutt, properties curator for English Heritage, said: “These finds reveal a fascinating insight into the lives of those at Tintagel Castle more than 1,000 years ago. It is easy to assume that the fall of the Roman empire threw Britain into obscurity, but here on this dramatic Cornish clifftop they built substantial stone buildings, used fine tablewares from Byzantium, drank from decorated Spanish glassware and feasted on pork, fish and oysters.

“They were clearly making use of products like wine and oil, contained in amphorae traded from the eastern Mediterranean. It’s a highly evocative picture and I am delighted that the time has come to return to site with the team to find out more.”

Tintagel excavations reveal refined tastes of early Cornish kings
The Tintagel Castle Archaeological Research Project is a five-year scheme 
[Credit: Emily Whitfield-Wicks/English Heritage]
Jacky Nowakowski, project director at CAU, said: “Our excavations exceeded all expectations by partially revealing amazingly well-preserved stone walls, a slate floor and a flight of steps, which belong to a pair of well-built buildings.”

The finds were made last year, but the details have only been released as the team moves back in this summer for a second, broader dig.

Nowakowski said: “Our plan in 2017 is to open up a much larger area on the southern terrace, so that we get a good look at the scale and size of the buildings and find out exactly when they were built and how they were used.

“All indications to date could suggest that they are residential buildings perhaps lived in by important members of the community that lived and traded at Tintagel over 800 years ago.”

Author: Steven Morris | Source: The Guardian [July 13, 2017]

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